Behind the Seams
Experts display treasures from MGM’s Costume Collection
Costumes can be like time capsules, especially if they reside in MGM’s Costume Collection.
Behind the buttons and zippers there could be a wardrobe tag signed off with a scene number, a production number or an actor’s name. There even could be a famous star’s sweat embedded in the seams, explains Culver City Historical Society Costume Chair and Knott’s Berry Farm prop master Denice Renteria.
“They were worn, they were worked in and then hung up,” she says.
So any residue left behind …“it’s in there,” says Renteria.
Making conserving such costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood quite a task.
Renteria will discuss the protocol and challenges of caring for MGM’s Costume Collection with former Historical Society Costumes Chair Sharon Shore and former Historical Society president Louise Coffey-Webb on Wednesday.
Another hurdle for the costume care expert is getting the costumes — many made for starlets with very small waists — to fit on standard-size mannequins for display.
“It’s hard to find mannequins with tiny waists,” says Renteria, who once tried to get a coat worn by actress Lana Turner, whose waist was 21 inches, on a mannequin with a girth of 23. “I wanted to tell the mannequin to suck in.”
Other costumes in the collection are so big and elaborate that they make only rare appearances — like Jimmy Durante’s giant clown costume from the movie “Jumbo,” which consists of clown shoes, gloves, coats and pants.
“We only displayed it once,” says Renteria. “It was a production.”
For the talk on Wednesday, Renteria, Shore and Coffey-Webb will discuss Gene Kelly’s pin-striped white jacket from the film “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and a French-style hat and two dresses, worn by actresses Kay Kendall and Taina Elg during the musical comedy “Les Girls,” also starring Gene Kelly.
Sounds like a good chance to go behind the scenes — or seams, rather.
— Christina Campodonico
“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about MGM’s Costume Collection” happens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 4117 Overland Ave., Culver City. CulverCityHistoricalSociety.org